Freedom is the Key: PATCO fare cards will work on SEPTA

At its monthly meeting on Wednesday, the PATCO board approved a contract to overhaul the software behind its Freedom Card to make it compatible with soon-to-finally-arrive SEPTA Key fare payment system.

The software improvement will turn PATCO’s card-based system into a card-based and account-based system. SEPTA Key is an account-based system. The $1.74 million back-end software overhaul will be performed by Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., which installed PATCO’s smart card fare system in 2008.

PATCO General Manager John Rink said the software upgrade should be ready by early 2017, “if the SEPTA Key pilot is finished by then.”

This is an upgrade over the previously planned level of PATCO-SEPTA fare card integration. Prior to this, the Freedom Card’s operability on SEPTA was slated to be limited to transfers between PATCO and SEPTA’s subways and buses, replacing the paper ticket transfer system used today. Following the software upgrade, Freedom Card will work for any kind of SEPTA fare, including weekly and monthly passes.

The upgrade will also enable the possibility of SEPTA Key cards to be used to board PATCO trains. Whether to do so, though, is a policy decision that hasn’t yet been made, said DRPA CEO John Hanson.

For now, though, Freedom Cards will be the only card a bi-state transit commuter will need, said Hanson. “If you are a Jersey customer, that’s the way to go.”

The upgrade doesn’t just add the technological capability to integrate with SEPTA Key, noted Rink. “The goal, one day, is for integration with New Jersey Transit, too, with the Riverline.”

In 2011 and 2012, PATCO and Cubic experimented with an open fare system, which accepted payment from any contactless chip credit card. PATCO ended that experiment citing high transaction processing fees. This upgrade will allow PATCO the flexibility to consider instituting an open system again.

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